Party precautions in the age of Facebook

web_hamburg_par_1284826cl_3The tiny community of Tabusintac, home to only a few families, is hardly New Brunswick’s partying capital. But if everything goes according to plan, its population will explode the night of June 20, when hundreds of drunken revellers storm into town.

One graduate of a nearby high school created a Facebook event listing for an after-prom party at his house. He included his address and cell number.

“I have a perfect yard to do it, lots of space. NO COPS!!!” he wrote on the Facebook page. “Keys will be given to my Mother.”

Looks like his mother will have her work cut out for her – as of Thursday, 381 people had confirmed attendance.

Still, Tabusintac is no Hamburg, Germany, where 1,500 guests showed up for a girl’s Sweet 16 party on June 3 after she posted the invitation as a public event on Facebook. The party was cancelled, members of a private security firm guarded the house, and 100 police officers were sent to manage the crowd (which vandalized cars, set fires and partied till the wee hours). The birthday girl, identified only as Thessa, later told a German paper she had quit Facebook.

Gate-crashing isn’t new, but social media and technology have made it easier to invade parties. A casual SMS invitation to a few friends can be forwarded to an entire contact list in seconds. Hordes can invite themselves to a Facebook event if it isn’t set to “private.” As a result, police and hosts alike are trying to find new strategies for crowd control.

In April, the RCMP were called to a house in Cranbrook, B.C., to control what was supposed to be a small get-together (held by a teenager whose parents were out of town), but turned into a rager with more than 100 uninvited guests.

Some of the (mostly underage) revellers pelted rocks and empty beer bottles at police cars and smashed the window of a neighbour’s house. Others picked fights with police and were arrested.

“This is a situation where the texting, Facebook … Twitter, whatever, it just spins things out of control,” said RCMP Corporal Pat Prefontaine. “Before you know it, you’re getting 150 people showing up when you had no idea these people were coming.”

Cpl. Prefontaine’s detachment later sent out 125 letters to the families of youths who were suspected of attending the party, hoping to prevent any similar situations in the future. He says officers often call clueless parents from keggers – especially in the summer, which is high party season for teens – and tell them they’re with their children. “The parents tell us their kids are in bed.”

His advice to hosts: “Keep the party small. Don’t send it out on text. Don’t put it out on Facebook.” Most importantly: “If it starts to get out of control, you have to call the police early.”

Torontonian Emma Ho says she was too proud to call police when things went sideways at a house party she hosted when she was in Grade 9.

Her father was out of the country for the holidays and, hoping to win friends at her new school, she invited 50 people to a kegger. One hundred showed up.

She says she can understand things from the gate-crashers’ point of view – at the time, texting made it easy to find out about parties every weekend. Now, Facebook makes it even easier. Teens don’t have to look hard to find ways to occupy their weekends. “It’s … just friends inviting friends inviting friends inviting friends,” she says.

When strangers who were several years older showed up at her party, Ms. Ho and a friend meekly asked them to leave. They refused. Her friend made the mistake of pouring water on them and triggered mayhem that ended with the house (and her friend) being doused in ketchup and mustard and a table thrown through the bay window. Even at that point, Ms. Ho thought she could handle things on her own.

“You always get your biggest, strongest, scariest guy friend to ask them to leave. In my case, he was nowhere to be seen.”

At 2 a.m., after neighbours called police, 10 squad cars, two emergency task force SUVs and a fire truck pulled up to the house. Police knocked down the door to Ms. Ho’s father’s room with guns drawn. They found a group of scared 14-year-olds – Ms. Ho and her friends – on the other side.

“After seeing something like that, you realize you never want to have them come back,” she says.

Christopher Rhind also learned the hard way to control party guest lists. The recent graduate of the University of Western Ontario co-hosted a housewarming party with his five roommates two years ago and advertised it openly on Facebook as an “all-you-can-drink” event. He anticipated about 80 to 100 people would attend, but instead about 300 showed up at the door.

The three kegs and five 60-ounce bottles of liquor were gone by 11:30 p.m. Soon after, a 50-person brawl broke out on the front lawn. One young man had an earlobe ripped off, Mike Tyson-style.

Three cop cars and a paddy wagon arrived to break up the party. The experience spooked Mr. Rhind from playing host for several months. Now he’s more careful about how he advertises.

“We’d either make them private or make ourselves the administrators so no other people could be invited. Make it clear that if you didn’t know us, you aren’t really welcome.”

But for those who don’t want the responsibility of saying no to surprise guests, there’s always the option of hiring someone else to play the bad guy.

Mike Jagger, president of Vancouver-based Provident Security, says teens and their parents hire his employees to work the door to make sure only invited guests come in. They already have several gigs lined up for prom season.

But they turn down more jobs than they accept, he says, because parents and teens often want them to bend their non-negotiable rules (set because of the liability risks that come with underage drinking). For one, guests can’t bring their own alcohol – they can only drink what’s provided at the party. If someone wants to leave, but appears intoxicated, he must be picked up by his parents.

“If the homeowner thinks that’s too hard and wants to have flexible rules, we’ll just suggest they try to find someone else to do security,” he says.

As for the upcoming after-prom bash in Tabusintac, the host took a simple, and perhaps inadequate, pre-emptive measure to keep the party under control – he wrote on the event’s Facebook page, “If anyone doesn’t like the rules you can leave.”

Published June 9, 2011 · The Globe And Mail · Written by Dakshana Bascaramurty

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